The Way I See IT

The award for the most sensational and misleading headline goes to. . .
By Mike Bryan | May 01, 2002
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The national media this month seemed caught up in a contest of who could spike a relatively benign press release with the most threatening headline. While a newspaper cannot significantly change the content of an Associated Press article without doing its own reporting, newspapers can - and usually do - apply new headlines to AP wire stories. So the competition begins over which paper can top the other with shear eye-popping, attention-grabbing, fact-bending headlines. I'll bet there's some type of annual newspaper award, like an Oscar. . . "This years award for creating the most dire headline from a routine story goes to. . . the envelope please."

The recent press release by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding stricter enforcement of emission regulations from ethanol plants is a prime example. It certainly was not news to the ethanol industry. In fact, ethanol producers have been aggressively implementing solutions long before the EPA publicly expressed its concerns, and they are working closely with the EPA to be in full compliance.

The announcement itself was not vindictive, accusatory, nor threatening. What was vindictive, accusatory and threatening were the headlines that followed: "EPA Probes Emissions from Ethanol Plants," "Ethanol Plants Accused of Spewing Toxins," "Ethanol Toxins Worry EPA." Yet, the stories all had nearly identical text.

If technology allows compliance with emission standards in coal-fired power plants, steel plants and oil refineries, certainly controlling the emissions from roasting grain should not pose an insurmountable problem. The use of thermal oxidizers is one approach being implemented by some plants and other emerging technologies are being explored. But in fairness, I suppose using a heading that says "Ethanol Industry Aggressively Pursues Reductions in Plant Emissions," probably wouldn't win one of those coveted dire-headline awards.

I understand that my venting will have virtually no effect on the manner in which newspapers throughout America treat wire stories. But it's important - if only in a small way - to send a message to the nation's newspapers that printing inflammatory headlines is terribly irresponsible journalism. . . it's simply tabloid-style sensationalism that gets in the way of telling the real story.

Mike Bryan
President, BBI International